Doctors who skip social media risk alienating patients

As more patients share information online, practices can benefit from establishing a presence and providing patients with digital communication options.

By — Posted July 22, 2013

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Physicians who forgo social media in their practices run the risk of falling behind patients’ growing demands for digital communication and allowing negative reviews to define their reputations, says a new research paper by HP Social Media Solutions, a digital consulting firm.

The report, released June 27, details why hospitals, health systems and physicians should have social media presences as more patients use technology to discuss and manage their health care. It says doctors who don’t use social media are more likely to be unaware of negative reviews posted by dissatisfied patients. Having no social presence online makes it difficult for doctors to respond to such reviews.

Doctors can use social media to counteract wrong medical information posted online by providing correct information for patients or guiding them to other websites, the report said.

Social media experts said physicians don’t need to spend a lot of time online to meet patients’ increasing digital demands. But they do need at least a minimal presence to enhance their practices and protect themselves from unfair criticism. Building positive reputations online can offset negative comments, and having a social media presence allows physicians to respond to patients’ comments in a timely manner.

“They should have a social media plan,” said Frances Dare, managing director of connected health services for the consulting firm Accenture. “If they don’t do social media, social media will do them.”

At the minimum, physicians should monitor their digital footprints to see what patients are saying about them, Dare said. Some patients post negative reviews on various doctor rating sites.

Beyond that watchful eye, physicians should consider having a practice website with a blog. Opening a Twitter account to post updates about their practices and general health reminders is a good idea, too, Dare said.

In addition to a practice website, doctors might consider creating a LinkedIn profile, said Leslie Hobbs, director of public relations at, an online reputation management company. Doctors should create Twitter and Facebook accounts in their own names to prevent anyone else from claiming to be them. They also should get on health care industry profile sites such as, Hobbs said.

“Purchase website domain names for yourself and your practice,” Hobbs said in an email. “There are many low-cost or no-cost templates for creating a nice website, but you can also hire a designer. Populate your site with what you’d want to know as a prospective patient. Where did you go to medical school? What awards have you won? What do you specialize in? What’s your philosophy of care? Where are you located? What insurance do you take?”

Increased access wanted

Nearly a quarter of patients reported in a 2012 survey by consulting firm PwC that they are using social media to manage their health care, said John Edwards, PwC’s director of health care strategy and health care business intelligence. PwC surveyed more than 1,000 consumers and 124 health care executives.

Edwards said many patients are interested in making appointments online, receiving appointment reminders through texts and interacting with physician practices through secure emailing options.

25% of Americans use social media to manage their health care.

Patients in the survey said they used social media to talk about their health care with others. Twenty-four percent said they posted about their medical experiences, and 27% said they posted reviews about medications, treatments, doctors or health insurers.

Edwards said physicians should ask their patients what kind of social media communications would be most helpful.

“Ask them what they want,” he said. “Asking patients about this is a step toward demonstrating how you want to be relevant to patients.”

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Social media guidance for physicians

The American Medical Association’s social media guidelines strive to maintain physicians’ professional presence online while preserving the patient-physician relationship. The AMA policy encourages physicians to:

  • Use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content on social networking sites.
  • Routinely monitor Internet presence to ensure personal and professional information on their sites and content posted about them by others is accurate and appropriate.
  • Maintain proper boundaries of the patient-physician relationship when interacting with patients online, and be sure patient privacy and confidentiality is maintained.
  • Consider separating personal and professional content online.
  • Recognize that actions online and content posted can negatively impact their reputations among patients and colleagues, and may have consequences on their medical careers.

Source: “Professionalism in the Use of Social Media,” American Medical Association, June 2011 (link)

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External links

“Social Media in Healthcare,” HP Social Media Solutions, June 27 (link)

“Professionalism in the Use of Social Media,” American Medical Association, June 2011 (link)

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